The discovery of the importance of relationship and perspective is explored within the short story ‘The Gift of the Magi’ by O. Henry. The short story is centralised around the financially unstable Dillingham family, who sacrifice what each hold dear about each other in order to buy gifts which complement the respective possessions, only to discover that the possessions are sold in order to buy the gifts. In this classic example of irony, O. Henry allows responders to reflect upon the meaning of discovery and joy through the manipulation of people, events, and relationships.
The worth of discovery is questioned and challenged in a whimsical manner throughout the short story. The scene O. Henry portrays is opened with the line, “One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all”. The use of syntax creates a sense of urgency and defeat, generating a negative atmosphere and establishing the tone of valuation and cost. The painful extent at which protagonists Della and Jim sacrifice for each other is portrayed through the abandonment of their most prized possessions, giving up their identity in the process. This is shown through the contrast between statements “Della’s hair…they both took mighty pride”, and “Will you buy my hair?”. The juxtaposition between descriptions of pride for Della’s hair and the harsh statement exploring the monetisation of her pride forces the responders to question the worth of the gift, and is further extended to the wisdom behind their decisions.
There is a discovery on multi-dimensions as ‘The Gift of the Magi’ explores the ramifications of inducing discoveries, forcing the responder to reflect upon their own life through implications the characters’ actions may hold. There is an overarching theme throughout the short story which focuses upon the juxtaposition of wisdom and foolishness. This is predominately portrayed through the whimsical and light tone of a narrator making commentary upon the situation, where throughout the characters’ speech, a pause is taken and the narrator states “let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction”. This aside provides comic relief, indicative of an air of humour associated with the intensity of financial woe. Wisdom is once again referred to at the closing of the short story where the narrator refers to the Dillinghams as “two foolish children” who “unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house.” The metaphor ‘foolish children’ alludes to the whimsical tone of the short story, but also draws attention towards the sacrifices necessary to facilitate love. However, O. Henry also establishes that discovery can be a multifaceted experience as throughout the process the characters undergo a wide range of emotional experiences. This is portrayed once again within the closing paragraph, where the narrator states, “of all who give gifts these two were the wisest”. This, contrasted with what the narrator stated directly before, is a seeming contradictory statement. The use of antithetical language creates a sense of disorder and confusion, causing the responder to ponder upon the true wisdom and ramifications of this discovery and gift exchange and bringing about a new level of depth beyond the surface.
Often, it takes experience to understand that discovery is challenging and confrontational as O. Henry proposes notions of true wealth. The responder’s reflection of true wealth is induced through the use of biblical allusions dotted throughout the text. The biblical references are evident within the title, where the term ‘Magi’ refers to the “wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger”, and is referred to at the closing of the short story. This biblical imagery is further extended when O. Henry compares Jim and Della to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, where it is revealed, “King Solomon, pluck at his beard from envy” and “let her hair hang…just to depreciate her majesty”. The use of metaphors and religious imagery generates a tone of richness, and draws upon the definition of prosperity. There is a sharp contrast in wealth generated through the comparison between King Solomon, Queen of Sheba, and the Dillinghams. However, this induces a discovery within the responders that true wealth isn’t determined by material possessions but rather the richness of relationships and emotional experience. There is significant moral weight carried within the short story through the exploration of the meaning of wealth and love.
Henry’s ‘The Gift of the Magi’ is a didactic text which questions the worth and connotations of discovery, forcing the responder to address the issues associated with physical and emotional wealth. Discovery is represented as a complex concept with a variety of implications as the intricacy of life and the wealth of experience is explored.